Ask HN: How to get invoices from un-registered freelancers?

Most freelancers I know are not registered in their country for various reasons (example they come from countries where the figure of "freelancer" isn't even a legal thing yet). But our company needs legal invoices, which they cannot provide.

We're currently using a freelancing platform simply for this problem, which means he's losing 10% and I am paying an extra 5% just for this.

Any better solution?

Note: Paypal invoices don't count. They can send a paypal invoice but that has zero legal value if he's not a registered business entity (according to my accountant).

7 points | by MarkVenison 12 days ago


  • codegeek 12 days ago
    Never pay anyone without an invoice. Never. If these freelancers don't know how to setup an invoice, it is honestly their problem. Having said that, I always tell them to go use a free tool like or you can send them a template they can use.

    Even if they are not registered in their country as a business, you can ask them to invoice you as an individual and then pay them.

  • h2odragon 12 days ago
    "your invoice has zero legal value" sounds like a great way to avoid paying people.. It probably works up until someone brings you to court.

    If you're required to business only with entities registered with some 3rd party (who? some government? your government?) then you should be able to refer to them for whatever documentation rules there are.

    Maybe your accountant has not sufficiently explained the details you you, or is just outright mistaken themselves?

    • nivertech 11 days ago
      > it probably works up until someone brings you to court.

      If someone didn't even bothered to pay for business license, and hire an accountant, I highly doubt they will hire a lawyer.

      Note, I'm endorsing not paying people for the services rendered,but this should be explained upfront, that proper invoice is needed in order to get paid.

      • amerkhalid 11 days ago
        Not sure where you are but in the US, you don’t need any business license for many types of businesses especially when freelancing. And you can invoice using any method including handwritten.

        It is probably smarter to do something better than handwritten invoice but I am glad there are not so many hurdles to starting a business here. I have dealt with a lot of contractors here who don’t even issue a paper invoice for small jobs, they just tell me how much I owe and I just pay.

        Small jobs probably are not worth suing for. But I’m sure if I don’t pay for a big enough job, they would sue me.

        • nivertech 11 days ago
          the context was tech companies and startups

          you need to save a paper or electronic trail, every email or instant message should be treated as a future evidence in court

          while technically US citizens don't need a business license to be self-employed, federal or local state agencies may still charge you, as some people were forced to pay for a business license just b/c they were running blogs with ads, and received some pennies in ads revenue

  • stephenr 10 days ago
    As a "freelancer" living in/working from a country where there is no legal concept of being a sole-trader/freelancer/self employed without a registered business entity, I would say this:

    It's not your problem. There is exactly one thing your company can do (which defeats the whole purpose): open a branch office in their country and employ them as a regular role.

    If you're not doing that, how they issue you an invoice is irrelevant to you.

  • ipaddr 12 days ago
    Seek advice from a different accountant. It sounds like he is structuring things a certain way that may require that but a different setup might benefit you more.
  • nivertech 11 days ago
    In my country there is something called "self-invoicing", basically the company issues the invoice on-behalf of a freelancer, withholds the maximum tax at source (eg 50%) and then pays the rest to the freelancer. Not much different from a payroll.

    It is then the responsibility of the unregistered freelancer to go and reclaim their share of taxes from the tax authority (since they usually don't have to pay taxes, not even VAT, until they reach a certain annual income limit). IMO, it is much less of a hassle to simply register as a sole proprietor correctly than to go through this process.

    Also, working with such people (who didn't even bothered to register as self-employed) can create accounting and legal/HR headaches for a properly run company.

    The first time I encountered this was when the startup company, I worked for, hired an 18 y.o. freelancer for a one-time job.

    Nex time at another company, we wanted to purchase a software, and turned out it was just a single guy without any business license or a company, so our CFO had to spend days to draw a purchase contract, so he could've been paid.

  • carlosjobim 10 days ago
    > But our company needs legal invoices Needs or wants?

    VAT taxes and such are the responsibility of the seller, not the buyer. Your freelancers can make their invoices in Excel or Pages, send them to you and you pay. There is no reason that there would be an issue. Sometimes a company has accountants who are lacking and only know how to do one thing, unwilling to learn. I highly doubt his/her claims that all invoices have to come from a registered business entity. But for these kind of questions you need to tell which country you're to get the most precise answers.

  • codingdave 11 days ago
    I'm confused - an invoice is just a statement of what is owed. It isn't a formal legal document. So I'm not sure what their setup has to do with it, or what you mean by "has zero legal value"?
    • throwaway11205 11 days ago
      In all EU countries an invoice (tax receipt) is a legal document very exactly specified by local law as well as EU regulation, and you can't move a cent without it - you won't be able to claim the expense (subtract from tax base = pay income tax on profit only) if you don't have it.
      • solardev 10 days ago
        I'm an American working for an Italian company as a freelancer, and I just print a generic invoice from Harvest (time tracker). I've also seen us pay other freelancers who make simple PDF invoices from web templates.

        Have we been doing it completely wrong this whole time...?

        • carlosjobim 10 days ago
          No, you haven't done anything wrong. Some people are just paranoid-compliant to the maximum level. Unless a company is doing actual money laundering or financing terrorists, the tax auditors won't give a damn about some wrongly formatted invoices from freelancers, as long as they are based on reality.
          • solardev 10 days ago
            Ok, phew, thanks for the reality check! We don't finance any terrorism (unless you count the quality of my code). We're just a small company without a big legal/accounting dept.
            • throwaway11205 9 days ago
              PDF invoices are nothing wrong. As long as you're not a VAT payer there are just basic requirements (vendor/customer ID and address, invoice number). Most likely yours is compliant - but you need to provide it.
    • nivertech 11 days ago
      It depends on the jurisdiction.

      In some of them a "tax invoice" is indeed an official legal document.

      In some countries the format of the invoices is highly standardized and regulated, and even an invoicing software has to be certified by the tax authority.